“Spitzmaus Mummy” is as quirky and eccentric as Anderson’s films. The low-lit exhibition opens with unattributed paintings of a “hirsute man” and his children, all with carnivalesque furry faces, yet posing for their portraits in fine dress as if they’re royalty (the portraits echo
paintings depicting the Spanish Habsburgs as children in a picture gallery upstairs). The titular piece is a tiny wooden coffin for a mummified shrew (the Spitzmaus
) from 4th century B.C.E. Egypt, and intricately decorated with drawings of a rodent and its afterlife, displayed in a vitrine in the center of the exhibition.
The show is arranged across eight cozy rooms, each with a clear (if oversimplified) criterion. One room is filled with green things: malachite stones, a green Roman vase from the 3rd century, a green dress worn in a 1970s production of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, a skirt of green feathers from 1870s Peru, a green Indonesian lute and bow, and paintings in which figures wear green clothing. Another space is hung floor-to-ceiling with historical paintings of royal babies and children from Central Europe, watched over by a petite suit of armor that could fit a 6-year-old. Another room displays representations of animals—cats, turtles, a phoenix, the shrew mummy, centuries-old Egyptian and Roman sculptures—in every medium and from all corners of the earth.
Anderson fans will recognize the filmmaker’s obsession with symmetry and color, but might notice a complete lack of the prescribed narratives that often mark his films. Standing in the galleries, though, one can almost conjure an alternate scene from The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) in which, perhaps, the murder of a tiny shrew has taken place, the coffin of the victim set in a perfectly balanced, unmoving shot. The packed arrangement of objects here wouldn’t look out of place on the walls of Royal Tenenbaum’s house. And those familiar with Malouf’s 2015 children’s book Trilogy of Two will see echoes throughout the show of her eye for representational detail and poetic sensibility (Malouf is responsible for more than half of the exhibition, in fact).